Lt. General Elwood Richard "Pete" Quesada, CB, CBE

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Elwood Richard "Pete" Quesada

Birthplace: Washington
Death: Died in Jupiter, Florida
Place of Burial: Arlington National Cemetery
Immediate Family:

Son of “Lope” Lopez Quesada and Helen A. McNamara
Husband of Kate Davis Putnam-Quesada

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Lt. General Elwood Richard "Pete" Quesada, CB, CBE

Elwood Richard "Pete" Quesada, CB, CBE (April 13, 1904 – February 9, 1993) was a United States Air Force General, FAA administrator, and, later, a club owner in Major League Baseball.

Early years

Elwood Richard Quesada was born in Washington, D.C. in 1904 to an Irish-American mother and a Spanish father. He attended Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, Pa., University of Maryland, College Park, and Georgetown University.

Early military career

In September 1924, Quesada enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a flying cadet and was commissioned as a reserve officer a year later. He had a wide variety of assignments as aide to senior officers, military attache and technical adviser to other air forces, and in intelligence. He was also part of the team (with Ira Eaker and Carl Spaatz) that developed and demonstrated air-to-air refueling in 1929 on the Question Mark. All five crew members were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their participation in the mission.

Rank and promotions

Lieutenant General Quesada was promoted and held commands as follows:

First Lieutenant 1932
Captain 1935
Major 1941—33rd Pursuit Group
Lieutenant Colonel 1942—Philadelphia Region, I Fighter Command
Brigadier General 1942—1st Air Defense Wing; XII Fighter Command; IX Fighter Command; IX 

Tactical Air Command

Major General 1944—Third Air Force
Lieutenant General 1947 -- Tactical Air Command

Pioneer of Tactical Airpower in World War II and Post War Difficulties

During his time as a junior officer he became interested in the concept of close air support of ground forces, which was thoroughly developed by the 9th during his time as commander in North Africa and Europe.

Quesada was instrumental in developing many of the principles of tactical air-ground warfare for the Ninth Air Force during the European campaign. Innovations attributed to him included adapting a microwave early warning radar (MEW) for real-time direction of fighter bombers that were already in-flight, as well as placing pilots as forward air controllers inside tanks equipped with VHF aircraft radios on the front lines. This latter technique allowed for direct ground communication with overhead fighter-bombers by personnel who understood what pilots needed to identify ground targets. Besides reducing friendly fire incidents, such tactics allowed attacking ground troops to use close air support with greater precision and speed, allowing for air cover to take the place of artillery support in a rapid armored advance. These improved tactics enormously expanded the contributions of tactical airpower to the Allied defeat of Germany on the Western Front.

The end of World War II would emphasize the importance of strategic bombers, however. Post-war military budgets reflected the predominance of strategic bombers over tactical aircraft, as the Cold War nuclear standoff between the U.S. and Soviet Union seemed to indicate that tactical airpower would be of little importance in future wars. Strategic airpower advocates such as General Curtis LeMay would gain a lock on the military budgets for the Air Force in the post-World War II years, and the U.S. Air Force's ability to engage in tactical air warfare would suffer all the way through the Korean and Vietnam Wars until a resurgence of interest and improved budgetary priorities in the 1970s.

In 1947, Quesada was promoted to lieutenant general and appointed as the first commander of the Tactical Air Command (TAC) in the newly independent U.S. Air Force. However, Quesada quickly became disillusioned as he saw how TAC was being ignored while funding and promotions were largely going to the Strategic Air Command. In December 1948, Air Force Chief of Staff Hoyt Vandenberg stripped TAC of its planes and pilots and reduced its status to that of a planning headquarters under the newly formed Continental Air Command.

Quesada thus asked for re-assignment and was given a dead-end job by Vandenberg as head of a committee to find ways to combine the Air Force Reserves and Air National Guard. Quesada was removed from this job after only two months, as his blunt and impatient nature only served to stir up controversy in this near-impossible task. This episode led to his request for early retirement from the Air Force, which came about at the age of 47 in 1951.

The onset of the Korean War would result in the re-formation of TAC, which would be headed by Quesada's friend, General Otto P. Weyland, who had also been a champion of tactical airpower with XIX TAC during World War II.

Civilian and Family Life

On October 12, 1946, Quesada married Kate Davis Putnam, the granddaughter of Joseph Pulitzer (founder of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), and a war widow (her first husband was Capt. Henry Ware Putnam who died in an air raid over Tokyo on May 25, 1945). His wife had two daughters from the previous marriage and they would have two sons of their own - Thomas Ricardo Quesada and Peter Wickham Quesada.

He was an executive for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation from 1953 to 1955. In 1957, he became President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Special Advisor for Aviation, leading to his appointment as first administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from 1959 to 1961.

Quesada became involved in professional sports when he became owner of the expansion Washington Senators in 1961. Quesada sold his stake in the team in 1963. He later became President and Chief Executive Officer of the L'Enfant Plaza Corporation, a private corporation which successfully partnered with the federal government to develop L'Enfant Plaza. He later became a member of the Temporary Commission on Pennsylvania Avenue, a precursor of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, which helped redevelop Pennsylvania Avenue NW between the White House and the United States Capitol.

He, his wife, and their two sons were involved in a dispute with Joseph Pulitzer III in 1986 over the control and value of their two sons' shares in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, an episode chronicled in "No Ordinary Joe" (p. 149-166).

Recognitions, Decorations and Medals

General Quesada's decorations and medals include:

Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster; Distinguished Flying Cross; Purple Heart; Air Medal with two silver oak leaf clusters; American Defense Service Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and seven bronze battle stars; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal

Foreign Orders and Medals

Order of the Bath (Degree of Companion); Commander of the British Empire; French Legion of Honor; French Croix de Guerre with Palm; Luxembourg Croix de Guerre; Order of Adolphe of Nassau; Polish Pilot Badge; Commandeur de l'Ordre de la Couronne with Palm; Croix d'Officier de l'Order de la Couronne with Palm.

On September 14, 2011, he was honored posthumously during Hispanic Heritage Month activities in Cleveland, Ohio.


General Quesada died on February 9, 1993 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

His wife Kate Davis Putnam Quesada died March 5, 2003, and was interred with him at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Lt. General Elwood Richard "Pete" Quesada, CB, CBE's Timeline

April 13, 1904
February 9, 1993
Age 88
Jupiter, Florida
Arlington National Cemetery